The Legal Rights CenterNadine Graves has devoted her whole career to helping others get the kind of second chance she got.
In 2004, at age 17, a felony conviction derailed Graves’ plans to become a nurse. Prohibited from working in Minnesota, Graves moved to Delaware and earned a B.A. in sociology and criminal justice. In 2008, she returned to Minnesota and sought an expungement of her record, which was granted in 2010.
Law school was next. A family that went to Graves’ church volunteered to pay her living expenses, making it unnecessary to work and easier to care for her two young sons.
After law school, Graves worked for three years as a public defender and two years as a defense attorney in Hennepin County’s Adult Representation Services Unit for child protection cases.
The work left Graves burned out, so she joined The Legal Rights Center in 2022 as the deputy director of its Community Defense Program. Now she oversees the work of four attorneys, an investigator and legal interns defending criminal and juvenile cases.
“We’re able to give clients a higher quality of representation,” Graves said. “That’s not a dig on the public defender’s office; they do tremendous work, but we’re able to put more time into cases because of smaller caseloads.”
Until April of this year, Graves chaired the board of directors for We Are All Criminals, a nonprofit that works to change perceptions of criminality. Graves is an Advisory Board member of Minnesota’s Conviction Review Unit. Graves’ podcast, “The Waiting Room,” explores the invisible impact of the criminal legal system on families.
It’s a lot of work, but for Graves, it’s the right work. She feels a responsibility to make the system better so that people whose dreams and aspirations are deferred can get back on their path sooner.
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